Memories from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
The BBC Gardeners' World Magazine team share their favourite memories from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
There's a buzz in the air at this time of the year in the gardening world, as we look forward to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Making a welcome return to its usual May spot, after an unprecedented move to September last year due to the pandemic, we're excited to see what admiration and inspiration this year's show will bring.
Ahead of the show, we asked the BBC Gardeners' World Magazine team to share their favourite memories from previous years, whether that be a show garden that sparked debate or captured their imagination, or a plant that was immediately added to their wish list.
Beneath a Mexican Sky, designed by Manoj Malde, 2017
Chosen by Lucy Hall - Editor
While globally influenced show gardens are a regular at Chelsea every year, most are – though theatrical – a novelty act. In 2017, the (then) little-known designer Manoj Malde burst on the scene with a hot-blooded slice of Mexico that blazed a trail for colourful gardens in a highly achievable way. He flipped the convention of bold-hued plants against a neutral backdrop to show how vivid feature walls can be as effective in the outdoor room as indoors, with year-round impact. The hot weather that year may have helped, but I knew straight away it would persuade readers to embrace colour with confidence – and make a brilliant magazine cover. Five years on, vivid walls are an urban-garden staple, while Manoj is rightly celebrated as a creative star of the BBC’s Your Garden Made Perfect. And the garden that launched him still feels fresh and energising.
The M&G Garden, designed by James Basson, 2017
Chosen by Kevin Smith - Deputy Editor
It’s a surprise to me that I’ve picked James Basson’s 2017 M&G Garden as my Chelsea highlight, as I really didn’t like it when I first set eyes on it. Inspired by a Maltese quarry, it was dominated by stone and, at a first glance, didn’t seem to include many plants at all - the complete opposite of what I usually love about a garden. But that’s the thing about Chelsea, you’ll always find something to spark a conversation, make you think or create a debate. And this garden certainly did that – like me, many show visitors didn’t like it, so it was exciting, if not a bit controversial, when it was awarded the coveted Best in Show award.
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I returned to the garden several times throughout the day and, to my surprise, realised that I liked it more every time I looked at it. The garden grew on me, and by the end of the day I could appreciate what all the fuss was about. I still wouldn’t want anything like it in my own garden, but James’ creation made me think, and it obviously made a lasting impression as I’ve never forgotten about it.
Welcome to Yorkshire Garden, designed by Mark Gregory, 2019
Chosen by Lucy Felton - Content Coordinator
The healing power of hearing water in the garden is immeasurable and that grounding noise is why I remember the 2019 Welcome to Yorkshire Garden with such fondness. That, and my forever favourite countryside staple, cow parsley. Lacy, white umbels dotted throughout gold medal winner Mark Gregory’s lock-side banks, the beauty softening the industrial infrastructure of the great British waterways. A working lock and towpath, smack bang in the middle of Chelsea Main Avenue? Yes, please!
Giant crowds huddled around the glorious stonework, the native raw material bringing all the gravitas, having its moment in the limelight. Piecing together that jigsaw of walling stone, one by one, now that’s something I would like to have seen.
But it was the very thoughtful quintessentially English perennial meadow edging that really won my heart. Enveloping the Yorkshire canal and lock gates, with a warm hug, instantly transporting us all to riverside town or country village. Digitalis and teasel spires, a lower, shaded floor of ferns and a sprinkling of erigeron daisies spilling out of the stone walls. There was even a traditional lock keeper’s cottage, what a spot for a cup of tea watching the water and wildlife go by.
The Daily Telegraph Garden, designed by Cleve West, 2011
Chosen by Emma Crawforth - Gardening Editor
I was working for a plant nursery supplying several of the Chelsea gardens in 2011 and spending my days running around the plants, watering, deadheading and moving them between hardstanding and polytunnel areas, to get them to the right stage for the show. I couldn’t imagine what one of the gardens we grew plants for was going to look like – Cleve West’s The Daily Telegraph Garden. A mix of yew topiary, valerian, an unusual and very upright Dianthus, (D. cruentus) with a rumour of yellow parsnip flowers from Cleve’s allotment joining them. The garden of course turned out to be beautiful, the scene of an ancient ruin inspired by a holiday. It won Best in Show and I spent a deliriously happy day standing next to it, identifying the unusual plants for curious visitors.
City Living, designed by Kate Gould - 2017
Chosen by Lily Middleton - Content Creator
I live in an urban environment and do my best to make it as green as possible, so this garden was truly inspiring. Many of the structural elements of the design reminded me of the endless new builds popping up in my area but with nature and planting at its heart - an aspirational vision of what urban design could be like. The planting reflects the light levels available on each storey of this impressive show garden and I particularly love the luscious ferns in the basement, perfect for shady balconies. The colour scheme of the planting contrasts wonderfully with the urban structures and the stunning shock of orange from the oversized lamps is quite delicious. I can only wish that my block would embrace planting to the same level as this stunning design.
House plant studios, 2021
Chosen by Adam Duxbury - Features Editor
When Chelsea returned for an excitingly-autumnal outing last year, it introduced a brand new category: the Houseplant Studios. Indoor gardening was a piece of the Chelsea puzzle I always felt was missing until that point, and the results did not disappoint. Taking over Ranelagh Gardens, several house plant experts, stylists and sellers popped up with fascinating huts bursting with fun and fabulous specimens. I spent ages poring over the wackier plants and feeling inspired to cram even more house plants into my own home (sorry, husband). I can’t wait to see what year two brings.
Geranium ‘Rozanne’, 2000
Chosen by Lucy Hall - Editor
Chelsea has been the launchpad for so many plants of note, and I aim to trial many of them to see whether the initial hype is justified. But none this century has had the appeal, longevity and vigour of hardy Geranium ‘Rozanne’. She made her debut in 2000, after 11 years of breeding that yielded a geranium like no other – flowering non-stop for six months with true-blue, nectar-rich blooms, and autumn foliage tints that extend interest deep into winter. An easy-going plant that’s perfect for today’s low-maintenance needs, it’s also rated by experts, scooping many awards including the RHS Award of Garden Merit and Chelsea ‘Plant of the Century’. Choose it for a cottage scheme, or play with the colour palette of citrus geums and bronze grasses for a contemporary feel. I’d not be without it – and reckon everyone who grows it, loves it.
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